I don't know Micheline Burger or her daughter, Mijanou Cackler — I've never spoken to them — but if they had come to me with their idea for opening a European-style bistro in a strip mall on the west side of Interstate 35, I would have done my best to talk them out of it.
I mean, I've seen more than a few restaurants come and go from the Quivira Crossing Shops. Among those that didn't survive was the Genghis Khan Chinese restaurant, which formerly occupied the deep storefront space that German-born Burger and her daughter have turned into Café Augusta.
Burger and Cackler describe their restaurant as a "new world bistro," though I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. Café Augusta is a coffee bar that serves quiche and pastries in the morning and sandwiches during the lunch hour; at night, it gets a little more formal with table service and a few dinner specials (or sometimes only one). I'm exaggerating a little by calling the evening meal "formal," given the paper napkins and the absence of tablecloths, but what the joint lacks in elegance it more than makes up for in charm.
Even if that charm isn't immediately obvious. I encountered eccentricities both weird and endearing. An improvised "patio" in front of the restaurant is decked out with clay pots planted with fragrant herbs and little café tables, but diners can't actually eat outside. Each table boasts a little note explaining that the outdoor patio is for carryout only. There's a rationale for why patrons can't eat there, but I never bothered to stop and read the whole thing because I wasn't interested in dining al fresco anyway.
Inside, the space at first feels pretty cold: polished concrete floors, dark chairs, peridot-green walls hung with framed posters (there's a sort of art gallery in the back, currently featuring pretty paintings by Burger's father), and a dark-wood bar loaded with all the accoutrements for making cappuccino and espresso. The small staff hasn't quite learned the art of immediately greeting customers as they wander through the front entrance, so there's some initial awkwardness, unless the handsome and convivial manager happens to be right there to guide patrons to one of the numbered tables (a very Harvey House touch).
But Café Augusta's small front-of-the-house staff, which includes Burger's other daughter, Antoinette, and a dark-eyed beauty named Brittany, was warm and engaging enough to dispel concerns — well, my concerns anyway — that this wouldn't really be a restaurant but a coffee shop where food was an afterthought. I couldn't have been more wrong about that, but I had to suspend my disbelief until I actually enjoyed my first meal there.
Burger and Cackler opened in early May, and kinks need to be worked out, as with any new operation. The mother-daughter duo has obviously put a lot of thought into this concept, but they're learning that the devil is in the details. Plates are beautiful — heavy white porcelain — but really too big for the tables. That was apparent on the night I dined with Carol Ann, Mary and Diane. When our four dinners were served, the plates seemed like oversized platters.
"But they're pretty plates," Carol Ann said, who warmed up to Café Augusta right away. "And the food is beautiful. So that overcomes a lot of minor annoyances."
The women wanted to know how I had heard about this new restaurant that is, in their perception, not only off the beaten path but also practically in another universe. I told them that someone had called The Walt Bodine Show raving about the French fries. So, naturally, that's the first thing I ordered from the six starters: bistro fries served with a punchy chipotle mayo. We also requested a little of the garlicky aïoli dip, which is normally served with a different appetizer. Apparently, the preparation of the fries was conceived by the dashing manager, who said he insisted that the crunchy, golden pommes frites be dusted with blue-cheese crumbles and fresh rosemary. Carol Ann said if the sexy manager had served us fries dusted with laundry soap, she still would have liked them because he carried the plate.